tv Memoirs of a Secretary at War CSPAN January 17, 2014 6:30pm-7:46pm EST
wars in iraq and afghanistan, national security, the don't ask don't tell policy and the mission to capture and kill osama bin laden. you can join our conversation online and just make sure to use the hash tag c-span chat and see what other people are saying about this event tonight that is hosted by the national constitution center in philadelphia. [inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations]
[inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations] [applause] [applause] are. [applause] >> good evening, everyone. i am the chief operating officer here at the national constitution center and it is my great pleasure to welcome you all here tonight for our first town hall program for 2014 with former u.s. secretary of defense
robert gates. [applause] >> i would like to take a moment to welcome the audience joining us from across the country via lifestream. welcome to you. the national constitution center is the only institution established by congress to disseminate information about the united states constitution on a nonpartisan basis. we fulfill that mandate in three important ways. as the museum of we the people, as the headquarters for civic education and as america's town hall. donor generosity helps the constitution center reach americans across the country through digital media and the informed civic dialogue in order to reinvigorate citizens to to become better informed decision decision-makers. so thank you to our members and especially to the leadership support of our society donors joining us to help us make all
this possible. please give us a round of applause. [applause] >> of you have any questions or would like more information about membership to the national constitution center, which includes invitations to exclusive exhibition openings, a special seating for even programs, pick up a brochure in the main lobby or stop by the box office after the program. for just a few housekeeping items, after the conversation we will be taking a few audience questions or it please ... questions on the notecards provided to you when you checked in this evening at registration and please handier cards to staff members who will be walking up and down the aisles. or you can submit a question using a hash tag that we have posted. a book signing will take place downstairs in the main lobby directly following the program. additional copies will be for sale at the box office. and finally i would ask everyone to take a moment to silence or cell phones.
thank you. doctor gates is a familiar and welcome faith of the national constitution center. in 2011 the constitution center honored him with a liberty award for his distinguished career promoting effective diplomacy and american troops around the world and it's great to have him back tonight. prior to serving as the 22nd secretary of defense he was the president of texas a&m university and he joined the central intelligence agency in 1966 and spent nearly 27 years as an intelligence professional. he served as director of the cia from 1991 through 1993 he's the only career officer to rise from entry-level employee to director. the country's highest civilian honor, the medal of freedom. he also received a national security metal and the
presidential citizens medal. and as a testament he is with us this evening for the very first stop in his book tour despite an unfortunate injury in the early new year and for that we are very grateful. tonight he takes us inside with his new released book duty, memoirs out war. his first book as u.s. defense chief. it is an account of his 4.5 years serving as secretary of defense under both president george w. bush and president barack obama area it has been called forthright and impassioned and highly revealing by "the new york times." ultimately and unsparing examination of the modern ways of making politics and policy by the boston globe. tonight's moderator covers legal affairs for the philadelphia inquirer as a member of the business news staff. before joining the business department he was a washington correspondent for the inquirer and covering among other topics
the collapse of enron and arthur in his sin, the 9/11 attacks and the 9/11 commission investigation. and now without further ado, please join me in welcoming our esteemed guest of the evening, doctor robert gates and chris mondex. [applause] [applause] >> secretary gates, i also want to thank you for being here, especially in light of the fact that you have recently had an injury and i know that you're making a robust recovery. but having to wear a neck brace as surely complicated to your being here and getting here and we thank you so much for making that effort for us. >> until i became a secretary of defense i have never broken a bone or had a surgery. [laughter] february 2008, i fell on the ice and broke his shoulder in three places and 10 months later a snow plow blade on the tractor
and my security guards came to the conclusion that al qaeda was no risk to me at all compared to myself. [laughter] and before we start i would like to say that it is good to be back here at the senate and also to apologize to the audience on my right for not turning in your direction. but the result of a broken neck is somewhat limited mobility of my head. well, that being said, let's get to your book. i found it a striking account "duty" gave what i would call a great thing. and you had a lot of help from the secretary of state, hillary clinton as you and other top
members wrestled with the difficulties on the ground in afghanistan and i would like to talk to you about this at some length, about your impressions of president obama. before we get into that, i would like to focus on a part of the book that hasn't gotten that much attention but which i think is equally important. and that is your description of the situation in the government and the white house when he took over as secretary of defense in 2006. you described a dire situation in iraq. american troops are dying at increasing rates. with the insurgents that are gathering force, there is extreme explosive sectarian violence and no apparent plan on the part of the united states government for coping with that. the take away from that part of the book is that we had not planned properly for the
occupation. and that that, indeed, it never occurred to military planners that we might be there as long as we had. so why were we so mistaken by that point? why we miss that? >> one of the concluding sections of the book is in effect on lessons learned about war. and one of the things that you would think people would understand would be how frequently people who advocate going to war and who make decisions to go to war almost always are convinced that the war is going to be short. this year will celebrate the centenary of world war i, which is a classic example of where everybody thought the war would be over by october or november of 1914. the problem in iraq in
particular and it really is true of iraq and afghanistan, that what began as swift military victory is quickly degenerated into long and grinding wars. in the case of iraq, it was always believed that it would be a short-term commitment. and i think it would be interesting to ask those who are participants in the decision-making had they known in march 2003 that the country would be at war in iraq for six or seven more years, whether they would have made the decision. they did. this assumption that the war would be short but at the end was right around the corner afflicted the department of defense as badly as it did the decision-makers themselves. and because they assumed the war
would be over quickly, there was a great reluctance to spend significant sums of money on equipment that might be needed to protect the troops but that might be useful only in iraq or afghanistan and as i describe in the book the department of defense has organized a plan for war and not to wage war. so the services dedicate all of their efforts to developing their long-range procurement plans and then defending those plans in the budget process regardless of what comes along. and people were reluctant, for example, to find developing funds that save so many lives because that particular kind of vehicle was not in any plan for the army or the marine corps.
>> i would like to ask you about that. to me that the military planners inside the beltway, they did not adjust to changing situations. >> the fact that also after the initial invasion it was just a series of stunningly bad decisions and mistakes. i would like to read a portion of the book, a situation that came across to me as scandalous. and i say this also because there's quite a bit of praise on president bush on his. and i think that your critique of the president and the much reported critiques of president obama have missed the point and that they are part of a larger fabric and evaluation, which is much more nuanced and we have gotten so far. but let me talk about what i
think is a scandalous situation. a fundamentally flawed and assumption from the outset that the iraq war would be a short one and cause many problems on the ground and for the troops as well. as the month stretch in two years, he never claimed to their original sanctions and seem unwilling to provide the troops everything they need for the protection and success and in their mission and to bring them home safely. if wanted to provide them with the very best of care. who wants to spend precious dollars on equipment for today's troops? that would otherwise just be surplus. so for years, our troops traveled in vehicles like humvees, the modern equivalent of the jeep. but we are vulnerable to it with rocket propelled grenades and explosives projectiles.
so people -- why did they not respond to casualties that are increasing? what we were doing was not working. were they not visiting the country? were they getting bad that information? and why was there bureaucratic resistance? >> i think as i indicated earlier i think that they kept thinking the end of the war was right around the corner throughout 2006 and the commander in the field until the fall of 2006, our commander in baghdad was still planning to draw down from 15 to 10 brigades by the end of 2006 and only realized toward the end of that wouldn't be possible. the first person that i think seriously concluded that the strategy wasn't working was president bush. and i think that that happened probably in the late spring or
early summer of 2006 and there are several different reviews launched for the most important one, which is probably led by the national security council staff, which would then lead to the president's decision to search the troops to get control of the security situation particularly in baghdad. this is a case and i have pointed it out and it has been presented mostly in a negative light. but i don't think it is a negative consideration. this was the civilian leadership that decided the strategy wasn't working. not the military. and so when bush decided support the iraq surge, he was opposed by the joint chiefs of staff and
the chairman of the joint chiefs and the theater commander in the commander in baghdad. >> you can hardly characterize that as a brilliant insight. many have turned against them because they were not doing well there. so why did the generals come on everyone else had decided that this was not going well? >> i wish i had an explanation for now. i wasn't there. i think that they -- i think they have concluded that their view was that more troops would aggravate the situation rather than help it. including responsibility for their own security and that it would and that the iraqis were expecting to see a reduced u.s. presence is not an increasing one you okay, you write in the
book that the general famously predicted that a congressional hearing that an occupation would've required and this is before the invasion in march of 2000. at an occupation would require hundreds of thousands of troops. would that have been a better approach? >> i think that the initial, it goes back -- these are the mistakes after the original invasion. had the iraqi invasion not been disbanded, which was a catastrophic mistake, from men who didn't know anything else, into the civilian economy with no support for their part of this. if those troops, if we had done our best to keep the iraqi army
coherent and with different leadership, then you probably would not have seen the looting that took place in baghdad and elsewhere. including violence that became so bad by 2006. so the number of troops required after the invasion in part dependent upon in iraq. i said in a speech of may of 2003 just six weeks after the invasion that now that we had overthrown saddam hussein, it reminded me of the situation where the dog catches the car and i said at the time we that we have more than 100,000 troops in iraq for more than a few
months, we will be in serious trouble. and i said that i thought the political end of different decisions have been made and not period under the original invasion, they might have had ended up with what they did and people seem unwilling to say that that was a really stupid decision. i write in the book that it's like no one ever wrote a book about this and the fact that if he ran the local power plant used to be a member of the party in the same thing in iraq. you have to be a member of the party if you were a schoolteacher. so does being oblivious to those kinds of things does lead to some amazingly stupid decisions.
>> and it wasn't just a matter of the military infrastructure being dissolved but this as well, which i think is disappeared overnight. >> it goes to this. secretary rumsfeld said famously to a soldier that this is true. and what i add is that you better make it into the army as fast as you can. and that is what i think we did not know. >> i have to ask you this. you mention this mentioned this and i think that i have this right. that your good friend i think it was the first bush administration that opposed the invasion in iraq.
and i'm wondering, you never really address that issue as far as you are concerned. have you been asked a part of these, would you have supported this? >> in the last chapter, sort of summing up a reflection that i don't know and it's hard for me to say what i would have advocated in 2003. like a lot of people in the congress and most other countries in the world, initially they all accepted this and that is how the u.n. security council got past with even russia and china. and so in that speech that i reviewed two, i supported the original decision and so i say
in the book toward the end that, you know, i had argued strongly against going to baghdad in 1991 in the first world war because that would have meant to overthrow the regime and to get saddam would have meant occupying two thirds of iraq and then it would be our problem. until we were unanimous in the first bush administration in opposing the idea and we took a lot of grief for it or not part of this. we cannot get the criticism after march of 2003 anymore. but i argued maybe i would've made the same argument that i did in 1991 about going to baghdad. i also might have been far more skeptical because of my intelligence back then and the
intelligence case that he had weapons of mass destruction and others were around the on the table this because i have a pretty good view and intelligence capability. and so to be honest i think it is hard for me to say what i would've advocated in 2003 with 10 years of hindsight. >> can you talk about your effort to get these vehicles for the troops in iraq? you are surprised to learn that there were these vehicles and developments in these mine resistant ambush and so how did you get that? a noted that senator biden was a target of much of your criticism. >> yes, and i give him credit for it.
and actually it is a lesson that i tried to hammer home to the military leaders with when they read criticism in newspapers want to go into eight defensive mode but to find out whether the newspaper series in "the washington post" had put me on to the problem of wounded warriors and let me to fire the secretary of the army. he was a newspaper story that i first read about this. and the marines had about 300 vehicles and he was riding in one of these vehicles. and i wanted to buy these things in large numbers.
and so i basically said, well, we are going to do it. and this is one place that i'm very critical of the congress in this book are that this is the one place that they did the right thing and we ended up buying 27,000 of these vehicles for iraq and afghanistan. when i first visited the army burn unit at the dick army hospital in san antonio is absolutely full because most of those young men had been in humvees that had blown up and became part of them. by the time that i was within six months, the burn unit was
nearly empty and so ultimately everybody came around to the fact that this is a good idea and looks good on that probably because i said so. the secretary of defense and there was a lot of opposition and again because these vehicles were not in anyone's long-term procurement plan. they were more worried about what they would do with them after the war and what good they might do in the war. my attitude is particularly when you're dealing with the lives of young men and women, it is when you are in a war you are all in whatever it takes to protect them or give them the tools to do the job and come home safely. you make that investment and if you have all this stuff at the end of the war, so be it. >> is one of the most disturbing elements because it was a
mailable to the military to say okay, now we have reasons of bureaucratic agendas and it wasn't implemented. so how do you fix a problem like that going forward? it seems that that is cultural and the culture survived. >> it is a leadership issue. and i will give you another example. it's even more shocking in my view. and the time for medevac anorak was an hour. it was called the golden hour the wounded and getting to the hospital within an hour. in afghanistan it was two hours. and i said i think it should be an hour. just like in iraq. in both senior officials came to me and had all of these statistics about how the death rates were comparable and in
iraq and afghanistan despite the time difference and so on because it was statistically a wash. it wasn't worth the investment to put additional resources into it. and so my reaction was a simple one. i'm a soldier that had been blown up and i want a helicopter there as quickly as possible. and so we sent more helicopters and i made that decision in january of 2008 or 2009. i can't remember which. and by july something like 80% are medical decorations are taking place in less than 40 minutes. ..
that any one of those elements whether it's the money people or the technology people or the budgeteers or whatever, can basically slow down or stop something from happening. only the secretary of defense has the authority to override everybody in the building. and just say we are just going to do it. >> he another which it requires a leader with considerable willpower and commitment to getting this thing done.
i wanted to ask you. >> there's nothing like getting the attention of the senior military and the pentagon as a whole. likes firing some people. >> which he did a lot of from what i read in the book. >> my attitude was in the case of both walter reed and the nuclear issue which is back in front of us, when i fired both chief of staff and secretary of the air force didn't fire them for not knowing about the problem in the first place. i fired them because once they knew about it they didn't take it seriously enough. that is the kind of accountability that i think needs to be exercise more frequently in washington. speeds and she brought up the issue of firing how did you feel about losing stanley mcchrystal? >> well at first, i mean i felt he committed a terrible error and i say so in the book. giving access to this reporter and mcchrystal is probably one of the most effective combat generals we have had since world war ii.
both as commander in afghanistan and as commander of the joint special operations unit in iraq and afghanistan. he did a lot of damage to our enemies and the people who were killing our troops. but the world of politics and the media was the new battle space for general mcchrystal and he was, he was a brand-new second lieutenant and that realm. and as effective as he was in the command position, he stepped out of line on some of his interviews. but i felt, when the report, when the article came out about him with the quotes that seem to disparage the vice president and the national security adviser and others, my worry was that if he was relieved, that we might
lose the war in afghanistan right then and there. we now had, by that time time we have a timeline and the president had decided, which i supported, of being all out, all of our combat troops out by the end of 2014 and he got along well with karzai. he knew the battle plan. he knew the brigade commanders. there was a family or the there and i worry that finding a replacement would take months to get confirmed and then more months to get acclimated enough to speed. so i was deeply worried that relieving mcchrystal would be a huge step back in the war, and then it was the president in discussing whether to relieve mcchrystal who said, how about david petraeus to take over? and immediately, and i give the president a lot of credit for the idea because it hadn't even occurred to me that alleviated a lot of my concerns because
petraeus knew the battle plan ended the brigade commanders, new karzai and had a good relationship with him and so on. so i felt like we really wouldn't lose much time in the war if mcchrystal were replaced by petraeus. and i told, as i say in the book, you know i wish stan had given me something to defend him with that the story was wrong in some particulars but as i write in the book it was sort of like he was at west point again and just saying no excuse. so under those conditions as i write in the book, that the president had no choice but to relieve him. >> i've found that part little bit puzzling although there was a history as you point out and for those in the audience who don't knows danley mcchrystal was a special operations commander who had tremendous success in iraq before and going into afghanistan, was a war hero
and had taken out of the battle this feared al qaeda commander zarqawi i think it was an instrumental in the dash of saddam hussein. he made some very unfortunate and candid remarks to "rolling stone" reporter. when he was called out on the carpet and this was after i gather he had made some other unfortunate remarks in london, not sensational but rather off the reservation and not closely tracking with the presidents preferred policy positions, making a president mad. he had already had a couple of strikes against him when this came up. you said general mcchrystal didn't take any steps to defend himself, even though there was possibly an argument that he could've used. why? >> well, first of all i think stan, i'm assuming some things
here because i never really had a detailed conversation with stan about why he didn't defend himself, only that he didn't. but i think that he knew he had made the decision to allow this nontraditional reporter to be a part of his entourage. i think he was stunned by the article and he may not -- an army inspector general report suggests he may not have known about a lot of the statements that were made by his staff to this reporter. and so i think he didn't quite know how to respond. he didn't want to throw his staff under the bus, so i think he did what he saw as the ethical thing for a commander to do under the circumstances,
which was to take the hit. >> one question. >> let me just say to build on your observations, i mean there was a lot of goodwill toward general mcchrystal in the white house because during the fall of 2009 and we have are debating options for afghanistan, including whether to go with what he had recommended, this 40,000 additional troops or other options with smaller numbers that have been advocated by the vice president and others, there were a number of leaks in public statements by the military including by general mcchrystal that made it appear to the white house that, and to the president, that the military was trying to box him in and force his hand to adopt their option in terms of the 40,000 troops. i tried to convince the president that i could see where
this suspicion came from because of these leaks and public statements. the president sought and others around him vice president and others saw it as an orchestrated campaign by the military leadership. i tried to argue that it was not a campaign, not orchestrated that if it had been orchestrated they would have been a lot smarter about it. but i was unsuccessful in that. but it did lead to an undercurrent of ill will toward him that when this article then came out about six months later he really didn't have a cushion. >> that was the last straw and i think as you write in your book that actually describe this as a pretext that the vice president used to have mcchrystal fired. >> well the way i describe it is that i think mcchrystal handed his opponents in the white house the ammunition with which to get rid of him.
>> i want to talk to you very briefly about the geopolitical battles in washington and on the capital. do you do not paint a flattering picture and this is not big news of our political process in washington. what struck me was your very detailed accounts of interactions with democratic and republican members of congress who behind closed doors would tell you that the policies that you are promoting were actually things that had to be done or should be done or are going in the right direction but when it came out and face the clean lights and spoke to the press, there was a totally opposite description of the situation and they were highly critical of the president and of the pentagon. you have been in washington or you have been in government a long time. do you think that our dysfunctional politics are any different from the way they have ever been? >> well television contributes. i say in the book that when the
red light on the television camera would go on in a hearing, it had the effect on members of congress of a full moon on werewolves. [laughter] and i guess the way i would put it in the way i write about it in the book is their politics in this country, as this center makes so clear, have been rough and tumble from the very beginning and quite vituperative even george washington in his second term came in for a lot of hits as did all of his successors. but what is different now and what has happened over the last i would say quarter of a century is that we have lost -- the congress has lost the ability to do the people's business. so, it's one thing to argue and fight and say terrible things about each other. that's been going on tour whole
history, but the inability to pass legislation to deal with serious problems i think is a relatively new phenomenon. and some of it is institutional and has to do with gerrymandering and the fact that in the house maybe only 50 or 60 seats are not competitive, and so the only elections that really matter in a lot of cases are the primaries where you have got to repeal to your party space where do you are at rat or a republican. and what we have for the first half of my career were what i would describe as a large numbee senate, of senators who were centerleft, center right and figured out ways to put together coalitions and get import legislation passed. the list will be familiar to all of you but these bridge builders as far as i was concerned are people like phil cullen and bill bradley, jack danforth, john warner, david warren, sam nunn,
nancy castle bomb, republicans and democrats in the list goes on and maybe the last one to leave because of frustration was olympia snowe. so you have this large number of people, most of whom could have been reelected forever who left in disgust because they couldn't get anything done. i think that is the new phenomenon over the last couple of decades that is especially worrying. now the other theme though in this book and i think this is an important point to make, despite my frustrations and even my anger at the congress, the reality is i got a lot of things done with the congress. most of my predecessors, it you are lucky, could get two or three or four big military procurement programs canceled that were over cost, overdue are no longer relevant. i cut nearly three dozen and
ended up getting congressional approval or acquiescence in all of them. i cut almost 200 lien dollars out of the pentagon's overhead, and even eliminated a combatant command. i got the congress to support me on that. partly it was because i had an enormously strong supporter president obama and a veto threat behind me but it was also working across the aisle with members of congress of both parties and figuring out how to move the agenda forward. and so i argue at the end of the book that you know we do have these institutional problems such as gerrymandering, what i consider the weakening of the role of congress in governance because of the weakening of the committee chairs and a variety of other things. but at the end of the day, the problem you can begin to i think address the paralysis.
not necessarily the polarization but the paralysis by people, by people at the white house and people in the congress beginning to treat each other more civilly. by people being willing to listen and take ideas from the other side, of not demonizing the other side, not distorting the facts purposely. i think they're a bunch of things just in terms of the way people treat each other in washington that could change the tone and the reason, the chairman of the house foreign affairs committee when i first became secretary a few months and told me that my arrival had been important because i changed the tone of the way that the debate was being carried on in iraq and other things. so i was able, the undercurrent of this book was i was able to
make washington work but the way you make it work is through the way you treat people. >> since we are on the subject of politics and we are running out of time very quickly i want to ask you, you mention deep in the book there's a little description of a phonecall you had gotten from the summit democratic leader harry reid who wanted the defense department he said to spend some money and research on irritable syndrome. this is while you were dealing with yours in iraq and afghanistan. there's a great deal of danger here deploying certain metaphors and i'm going to try and avoid that. how did that conversation go? [laughter] >> i very politely told him that i would look into it. [laughter] he came out yesterday and was very critical of the book to which my response was, you know it's just a fact of life that members of congress vote on things they haven't even read. [laughter]
[applause] >> well as they say you have to pass the bill to find out what's in it areas he actually actually called you on point and asked if you would be interested in running with president obama as its vice presidential candidate. how did that conversation go? >> it was one of the more bizarre conversations i think i've ever had. he called up and we were talking about something else and all of a sudden he said, i was largely responsible for getting, talking president obama into running for president. i heard that from a lot of people on the hill. and he said that there is no candidate for vice president. how long have you been a registered republican? i said well i'm not actually a registered republican. he said well where do you stand on abortion? i said i don't have a stand on abortion.
it's not something that has ever come into the national security arena. he said how long were you in academic? i said not all that long. he said something might come of all of this are nothing but i just wanted to check. i hung up the phone and i just started to laugh and said that's really weird. [laughter] and as i say in the book i never told anybody about it because i didn't think anybody would believe me. [laughter] >> that you did end up working for the president nonetheless. one serious issue that has been raised by this book and i think the way the government functions came up early on in the coverage of the book was there was a lot of hammering about these conversations you had with president obama and the focus is always on the conversations with president obama, not with president bush but you revealed much there as well. they were held in confidence and that indeed, the president often
invokes executive religion congress to prevent exactly this kind of information from coming out in the public so that there could be a free flow of ideas in that kind of free exchange of information. how did you work through the ethics of that? i came away thinking this was actually a public service that people learn a lot about the way their senior government leaders make very difficult decisions both republican and democrat but you are disclosing something and i have no doubt that both presidents didn't anticipate that this would be in the book. how did you work through that? >> well i think first of all, i think modern presidents have pretty realistic expectations about what will be written, but that said, from my standpoint there were a couple of things that were important. the first is if you actually read the book, the conversations
i describe almost entirely paint these presidents in a positive light. because it shows them pushing back against the military, asking hard questions, not being being -- not allowing themselves to be spoonfed information and not just acquiescing because some guy with four stars on his shoulders said we ought to do thus and so so it shows these presidents doing what i think americans would hope their commander in chiefs would do. and it underscores that these two presidents, just like almost all of their predecessors, have disagreed with the military at various times and made decisions that the military had not recommended. the second piece of this is, this book is dedicated to the men and women of the u.s. armed forces and i wrote this book in substantial measure for the troops and their families.
one of the things i wanted them to see under both of these presidents and in both iraq and afghanistan, i wanted them to see what the washington battles based look like. they knew what iraq and afghanistan looks like but i wanted them to have some insight into the real world of what was going on in washington as big issues associated with these wars were discussed. and to give them some sense of the passion and the amount of time spent debating these issues and the decisions that they would make. and i think that it is a realistic portrayal of the wars that were being fought in ching 10 at the same time there were wars being fought in iraq and afghanistan. >> and a final point, people's memories are short, especially in washington that the reality
is all through 2010, senior white house staffers were leaking what the president was thinking and what is conversations were and his criticisms of the military and so on and so forth. on a routine basis in the newspapers, so the notion that what i describe in the book is the president growing reservations about the decisions he had made is absolutely no news to the newspapers. we are full of that information all through 2010 in the first part of 2011. >> i do agree with you. your descriptions of vote osha and president obama are often very laudatory but there is quite a bit of critical commentary and there is well and one portion of this book strikes me as very much in that vein. you take president obama to task
for being what i would characterize as an uninspiring military leader. he didn't bring enthusiasm to his role role as commander-in-chief especially with regard to the afghanistan war and you i think had a conversation with rahm emanuel where you made that point that the soldiers needed to hear that the president was behind what you called the mission. so, that is -- and you chew that conclusion from your interactions with him and general counsels. >> yeah, and trying to weigh this and balance it, i supported every single one of the president obama's decisions on afghanistan including up to the decision to seek the strategic agreement with the afghans that would keep her residual force their act the end of the year. but there were two aspects of the war in afghanistan that troubled me.
one was the presidents suspicion of the motives of the senior military, particularly when it came to their recommendations on afghanistan. and the second was what you describe. as i told from when i met with him, i don't mind that the president speaks out on exit strategies and so on, but the troops need to hear from their commander, the person who is sending them in harm's way, that their cause is just and noble and the mission is important for the country and therefore their sacrifices worthwhile. and the two and a half years that i worked for president obama he only did that once or twice. and i think that is one of the
responsibilities of the commander in chief when he deploys men and women in harm's way, is that he'd be willing to speak publicly, to why that's important and why their potential sacrifices worthwhile. >> did you ever try to broach this to the president himself? >> no, as you say i race to directly with rahm and i said you know the president has to take ownership of this war. i think probably on a few occasions i mentioned to the president that he up to say more about why it's important to do this but the interesting thing is once he made this very difficult decision in november 2009, which he overrode the political recommendations of his vice president and all of his political advisers to approve this surge, there never was really other than the
initial speech at west point on december 1, there was really not any kind of a white house effort over the ensuing months for there to be any kind of campaign with the american public to tell them why those decisions were important and why this cause was important. >> one last question. you mentioned in the book that you had urged the senior white house staff not to leak information about the raid to kill osama bin laden and of course the information leaked out within five hours. who leaked that information? >> i like to tell people first tell people first of all that the department of defense -- although the defense department is very good about holding secret military tactics and
techniques that might put troops or lives at risk. so in this case my belief is that, i will describe the very end of our time in the situation room, we know bin laden has been killed. he is back in jalalabad and on his way to a -- and we are about to break as the president is going upstairs to address the nation and tell them about this extraordinary success. and i said now look, we used these tactics and techniques every night and going after taliban and al qaeda leaders so it's important that everybody agree that all we are going to say is that we killed him and not get into any details about the operation and how we did it. and as you say, right in the book that lasted about five hours.
and everybody agreed that after i made this little pitch, everybody agreed it was like little kids we did our blood of kind of thing that we wouldn't do this and it all lasted about five hours. i believe that the leaks primarily came from the white house and the cia who just couldn't wait to brag about how good this had been. >> leu point out. >> then i think two weeks later defense probably started to cheyenne. >> you right that there is a significant operational downside to doing that because the model for that raid was the raids that were being done every night in afghanistan and iraq to apprehend and remove from what you call the battle space, these al qaeda commanders and taliban people. there was a significant cost to that. >> yeah, i think so. >> we have some questions from the audience and i would like to pose them to you but before you do that quick weight, was there
anything that you did that you wish you could've could have done again and before you say that you write very movingly about the difficulty in coping with the casualties and your responsibility for that and that part of the book was very well-written and i highly recommend that people focus on that. >> i think i'm fairly, i think i am blunt and candid in describing mistakes that others made. i am equally blunt and candid in describing mistakes that i think i made and just to answer your question one for example is that i allowed a fairly dysfunctional chain of command problem in afghanistan to continue longer than i should have. where the u.s. commander in
afghanistan actually didn't have command over all the american troops serving in afghanistan, and while i asked two successive chairman of the joint chiefs to try and fix fix it, it was ultimately my responsibility and i finally fixed it but i took too long to get there. that's just one example. >> just to follow that up quickly you write in the book that the special envoy and i think carl eikenbereikenber ry were working against the re-election campaign of our allies there of hamid karzai. and you didn't seem to be very happy about that. how did that happen? >> first of all, karzai made at the shortcomings but he sure as heck know what's going on in his own capital. so the idea that we could do this and him not know we were trying to get rid of it was
pretty naïve in my view, and so when you see all these problems that karzai creates for us, his knowing that we for all practical purses attempted it who check-ins him in the summer of 2009 probably didn't help the relationship. >> and he is still there, nursing some resemblance i'm sure. i've some questions from the audience that i would like to read you. here is the statement first of all a flat-out position paper. thank you for thank you for your longtime commitment to protecting my family and country. get well soon. godspeed and go aggies. [laughter] i'm going to have trouble reading this but it's my understanding the chairman of the joints chiefs is directly responsible to the president.
what valuable input do we lose when the chairman is obsequious to a domineering secretary of defense? >> well i think the chain of command actually does not include the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. nor does it include the vice president. it goes from the president to the secretary of defense to a combatant commander. so under the national security act of 1947, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff is one of the statutory advisers to the nsc, one of only two. the other is the head of intelligence. he is the president senior military adviser and he is the chairman of the joint chiefs. he has no direct command authority and i will say both president bush and president obama gave the joint chiefs
including the chairman all the time they wanted and in my experience, and i watched two different chairman under two different presidents and i never saw either of them be obsequious or the president tried to intimidate them or sort of dampen their views by being sarcastic or harsh or insulting or intimidating in any way. both of these presidents, despite the fact that they both agreed, disagreed with the chairman on a number of occasions, were very respectful and gave them all kinds of time. i always make sure, first of all i considered a critical for me to get the most blunt possible advice from my senior military
officials. and i will give an example of it and it will probably have to be bleeped, but when it came time for me to decide whether to extend military tours in iraq and afghanistan from 12 to 15 months, i was working with the military and trying to decide. this was a very difficult decision and i knew it would have the consequences for military families. my senior military adviser comes to me at one point and he says that the troops know you have to make this decision and they think you are an idiot for not make in yet. that's the kind of candor that i tried to encourage among the senior military and i believe that i had a very good relationship with them. and they would disagree with me on more than one occasion.
the mraps was an example. medevac was another. the number of drones was another so i tried to encourage an environment where they would speak up and where they would need honest and candid. i think any secretary of defense for president who does not want that kind of candor is make in a terrible and frankly dangerous mistake. >> you have disclosed to me judging what from your book endless frustration with president bush and president obama and the joint chiefs on a number of occasions. >> it was a number of other senior military and their frustration and impatience was not over what the senior military would tell them in the situation and the oval office or even in open testimony. it was what they would go out and say in public speeches or television interviews and things like that.
that is what got under both of these presidents skin. >> right, and i could see why it would. it seems to me there's a very difficult line to draw there. on the one hand you want to get good advice. this is a democracy citizens need and expect a certain level of transparency and information from their leaders and yet if a military leader is off the reservation and pursuing or promoting a policy agenda that differs with the white house it seems to me that could cause tremendous difficulties. >> is not only one that differs but pursuing an agenda that differs in the white house. speaking out about things that in some way or another limit the president's options or telegraph consequences that maybe the president would rather keep private during a period of deliberation. so one of the things that i write about his civil military relationships is the consequences of senior military speaking out too often in areas
which are not necessarily bear direct responsibility for in terms of preempting the president. >> i have another question here. it's very simple and i think the m. answer is simple. which book, tour interview have you enjoyed the most, charlie rose and jon stewart and i would add of course the answer now has to be this stop. [laughter] >> lets just say that the interviews with jon stewart and charlie rose were somewhat different in nature. [laughter] but both were enjoyable. >> do you think the united states should adopt a policy of national service in place for a draft? >> i believe, if i could wave a magic wand, what i would favor is required national service
that is not limited to the military. i believe that every young person in america between ages 18 to 28 or 25 or whatever ought to spend a year or two or three if in the military providing national service, of giving back to the country something in exchange for what they have been given. we hear so much in this country about our rights as citizens and we hear so little about our obligations as citizens. so whether it's tutoring in the inner city or rural schools are working in teach -- hospitals, teach for america, new version of the civilian conservation corps, there's a host of different things young people could do for some period
of time and for example if you volunteered for the military you would have to commit for three years but you would get paid significantly more than any other area partly because of the risk and so on. and where i am torn is that there is, whether such service should be required or whether it should be voluntary. but the voluntary piece of it would involve some measure of pressure in the sense that if you had not performed national service, you would the significantly tested and edged in it missions for universities, in the hiring process for jobs. in other words this would come to be seen as amoral and ethical obligation on the part of a young person and if you chose not to serve, it would weigh
against you in some of the choices in your life. i strongly believe that there ought to be -- you would find that the military leadership is totally against the draft. and i think i share that, but i think it ought to be broadened. service ought to be broadened for everybody. >> the last question for you. as you look into the future what do you see is the greatest threat to the security of the united states? >> well, and i'll honesty, i think that the greatest immediate threat to the united states is in fact the paralysis that we see in the two square miles that encompass capitol hill and the white house. if we can't begin seriously to address the problems that we face, whether it's education or immigration or the deficit or
the national debt, a host of other problems, none of those problems can be solved in the span of one presidency or one congress, so the only way we can actually make headway against those problems is through bipartisan solutions that can be sustained through more than presidency and congress. and if we can't begin to get past this paralysis and ching tan, then i think we are in serious trouble. if you want to talk about national security issues, i think we have to worry about cyber. we have to worry about a terrorist in this country with a weapon of mass destruction. we have to worry about iran. we have to worry about north korea and we have to worry about something inadvertently creating a crisis in the south china sea. those are all kind of out there on the horizon as far as i'm concerned is significant problems, but the biggest
wrapping things up here after secretary gates comments and he will be joining us at 10:00 eastern, 10:00 p.m. eastern monday at 1:45 in afternoon part of booktv's programming on c-span2 a. we will let you know some tweets coming across from viewers who have been watching this. e. mark lek says mr. gates are chain of command should never lie lie to us that they do. pass the military justice improvement act, whose bragging now? you are guilty of your own accusations. max thibodeau says does mr. gates think a good decision to retain a lethal drone in mission for the cia and mr. gates could you summarize the lessons of year to worsen your tenure so america does not repeat its mistakes? again you can watch this and we
both have it here on c-span twos booktv at 10:00 eastern time monday 1:derf -- 1:45 in the afternoon. this weekend special three days of book tv for the mlk holiday. we'll have more conversation, nsa the president's comments on facebook. you can check our facebook page and respond to the question on president obama's surveillance reforms. tonight coming up in about 16 minutes on our companion network c-span we will begin with the president's speech and those announced changes to the nsa. here on c-span2 collection of this past week state of the state address from governors across the country and we will check in with colorado iowa vermont and indiana and then c-span3 has the release of the surgeon general's report on smoking and health of tonight in prime-time starting at 8:00 eastern across the c-span networks.
>> 300 years ago the first pioneers crossed the oceans to a new world. a promise. the promise of a land where men could build his own house, raise his children freedom and yet in one of the great river valleys of america, something went wrong. in the tennessee valley, three centuries later the descendents of the pioneers were a neglected people. living in the ruined land. for these children the hope in and the promise were deadly. >> the tennessee valley authority was a project one of the early new deal projects, really a project in the concept that had been under consideration for some years before franklin roosevelt became president. nebraska senator was looking to help improve the quality